Do You Need a Water Softener? How to Make This Hard (Water) Decision

by Team eLocal
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If all water seems pretty soft to you, think again. Water can, in fact, be "hard" when it contains high concentrations of calcium and magnesium minerals. These elements are hard on your plumbing system, hard on your appliances and even hard on your skin.

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Finding yourself wondering whether you need a water softener? The answer depends on your local water supply. Here are some basics to keep in mind.

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What Is a Water Softener?

A water softener is a type of water filter that removes hard water minerals from your home's water supply. Most homeowners install their water softener at the point where water enters the house via the main water line to protect every fixture in their home from the effects of calcium and magnesium.

Water softeners contain filters with negatively-charged beads. As the water flows through the filter, the beads attract the positively-charged hard water minerals and prevent them from entering your home's plumbing system. Many water-softening systems have a self-cleaning function that flushes the filter with positively-charged salt water. The salt particles draw the minerals from the beads, allowing the filter to continue working correctly.

Does Every House Need a Water Softener?

You can install a water softener in any home, but it may not be worth the outlay in some areas. Whether a water softener is necessary depends on whether you live in a hard water area. This handy map from the U.S. Geological Survey shows which places have hard water supplies. You can also ask your water company for information about your water's mineral levels.

Alternatively, you can test your water yourself to determine the hard mineral concentration by purchasing hardness test strips online or in a hardware store. Using the strips is straightforward: Dip the strip in a sample of your tap water and compare it to the product's color chart. Your water counts as hard if the mineral concentration is over three grains per gallon or 50 parts per million.

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6 Other Signs Your House Needs a Water Softener

You may need a water softener regardless of your test results if you notice any of the following signs.

1. Mineral Deposits

When hard water evaporates, it leaves a rough white residue behind. In fact, this hard residue is how hard water gets its name. You'll likely notice hard water mineral deposits in areas where water usually flows or settles, such as faucets and plug holes.

Mineral residue can be challenging to remove, and a water softener can stop it from building up in the first place. While you're waiting for installation, try drying sinks and other plumbing fixtures immediately after use to keep the residue at bay.

2. Clogged Pipes

Over time, hard water deposits can accumulate inside pipes to form thick, stubborn layers of limescale. Substances such as soap scum, food waste and hair can attach to this crusty buildup and form stubborn clogs.

Limescale accumulation inside your pipes can also cause reduced water pressure, starting a vicious cycle. The slower the water flow rate, the faster the sediment accumulation. Constantly repairing your plumbing is expensive, so this issue is usually a sign that a water softener is necessary.

3. Leaking Appliances

Unfortunately, hard water deposits can also wreak havoc with appliances such as washers and dishwashers. Mineral buildup can cause various appliance woes, but leaks are the most common. Limescale developing in the appliance's valves can prevent them from shutting tightly, causing your washer to leak.

4. Irritated Skin

Hard shower water leaves mineral salts on your skin, and most soaps and body washes do a pretty poor job removing them. These salts can make your skin dry and clog your pores, increasing the chance that you develop pimples and blackheads. Excessive dryness can also make your skin feel sore or itchy.

5. Faded Clothes

Hard water can cause colorful clothes to fade prematurely. Furthermore, you may find it more challenging to get your clothes squeaky clean because your detergent can't remove built-up minerals from the fabric.

Using a specialized water-softening detergent can be a handy short-term fix if you're struggling with clothes issues caused by hard water. However, these detergents are often pricey and won't protect your plumbing system, so it's still worth investing in a water softener to solve the problem permanently.

6. Soap Scum

Soap and body wash can't usually dissolve hard water minerals. However, the minerals can react with the detergent and bind to it to form a greasy, thick substance called soap scum. Soap scum often accumulates on fixtures and around plug holes and can contribute to clogged drain issues. It also forms a thin film over baths, sinks and shower screens that can be extremely challenging to remove.

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